In January 2016, the Los Angeles Times posed a simple question to Tony Yanow:
As a co-founder of Golden Road Brewing, which had just sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev four months prior, the Times wondered whether Yanow, who left the company after the sale, would lay low or quickly move on to his next venture. In response, Yanow ruled out one thing, saying he didn’t have “any interest in another big brewery.” Other than that, though, he kept short on details regarding what he did, in fact, have interest in. He continued:
“I want to do something different… I’m still the same guy, still the same beer lover, but the difference now is I have some of AB’s money that I’m going to use for new beer projects.”
Now, almost two years later, Yanow’s post-Golden Road ambitions have come quite a bite more into focus. And though he has thus far stayed true to his word in not launching “another big brewery,” his new undertakings haven’t necessarily been small, either. Rather, through the Artisanal Brewers Collective, a restaurant group he co-founded with a number of other Golden Road alumni, none of which have any remaining ties to ABI we’re told, Yanow has spent the past two years steadily gobbling up vacant space and active businesses alike, creating a ceaselessly growing roster of beer-centric pub ventures. Indeed, while Yanow may not be interested in a big brewery, his latest moves indicate he’s clearly in the business of building an empire of different beer bars and brewpubs in Southern California.
Here’s a rundown (with special thanks to Los Angeles Eater for diligently handling so much of the heavy lifting):
Last October, it was announced that Yanow was working toward opening a “restaurant concept” before an ABC spokesperson confirmed a couple months later it would also include a brewing component and was likely open to the public this spring.
Just one month later in November 2016, ABC’s plans to take over the site of Yamato, a Westwood Village Japanese restaurant, and utilize the space as a “beer-focused” restaurant were made public.
Come January, word dropped that Yanow & Co. had acquired four popular Los Angeles bars, including Library Bar, Spring Street Bar, Sixth Street Tavern, and Beelman’s. To date, the businesses still operate under those names, but at least one, Beelman’s, has converted its menu to go fully vegan.
That same month, it was revealed the ABC organization was behind the flip of the Steingarten pub. It subsequently rebranded the place as the Stalking Horse, which recently debuted its brewing operations with four house beers.
In February, more of the same, with ABC acquiring Brennan’s Pub to shut it down, renovate, and reopen.
In March, things get a bit interesting. The company continued taking over spaces, of course. But this is when it moved three hours south to San Diego to nab up a spot previously occupied by the Beer Company in order to house yet another Yanow brewpub, this one known as the Bell Marker, slated to open this month.
The company wasn’t inactive in the L.A. area that March, however. That same month, it came out that ABC had taken over the Eclectic with plans to renovate and rebrand the cocktail bar. [Editor's note: GBH has since been informed that ABC is no longer involved with this project, though the group declined to specify what happened.]
After a few months of quiet, ABC was in the news again in June, this time buying 8,000 square feet of space in Pasadena.
Fast forward to November 2017: ABC makes its most recent move, taking over The Black Boar, a British-style beer pub in L.A.
None of this has gone over the local industry’s head, of course. Brian Lenzo of Arts District Brewing—a 15-barrel brewpub that opened in 2015—for instance, has been paying attention. And he says he’s hopeful that such an effort can help to further “captivate and bring” more people to craft in the growing Los Angeles beer scene.
“He’s got a nice budget, but he worked for it,” Lenzo tells GBH. “He’s only going to make it better for us. As long as he’s not selling MillerCoors on his draft system, he’s okay with me.”
This type of aggressive charge from the Artisanal Brewers Collective can be viewed similarly through a wider lens of economic development as well, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
“Certainly the microbrew industry is growing in LA County and we like that because it is an export-oriented product that creates skilled jobs,” says Lawren Markle, director of public relations with the LACED, who added his organization has not followed specific properties or companies in the industry. “Regarding restaurants, we know that small businesses are very important in the economy.”
In some ways, this isn’t a major professional departure for Yanow. Even prior to the ABI deal for Golden Road, he was already a restaurateur with ownership of two beer bars, Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank and Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. Throughout this spending spree, however, which has no doubt cost millions, Artisanal Brewers Collective has kept relatively mum about its ambitions. And to that end, Yanow did not respond to GBH’s direct emails and phone calls while the restaurant group’s PR firm further declined to make him available for an interview about the group’s broader motivations.
We can, however, shine some light on the mysterious background of the Artisanal Brewers Collective. For starters, Yanow has not been involved with ABI since the Golden Road sale, and ABI further says it has no involvement in the Artisanal Brewers Collective, nor do any of ABC’s current team members work there. No less, the collective pumps with Golden Road’s blood through and through. Alongside Yanow, ABC’s other co-founders include Daniel Popielinski (former director of operations at Golden Road), Trevor Faris (former marketing project manager at Golden Road), and Paige Reilly (who spearheaded keg ordering, education, and events at the Golden Road Brewpub, as well as Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away). Meanwhile, the fifth co-founder, Cary Berger, joined the team not from Golden Road, or even the beer industry, but from the Walt Disney Company, according to his LinkedIn profile.
For now, it’s unclear how much more spending ABC still plans to do, or what it has in store for the businesses already under its umbrella. But either way, this much is clear: L.A.’s beer scene is in a tangible way being made over in Tony Yanow’s and the ABC’s image. All of which is to say: the reverberations of Golden Road’s sale are still shaking the foundation of the city of angels.